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Race activists claim past to improve future

by PRIDE Newsdesk

ASHVILLE, N.C. (NNPA) – The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has awarded $75 million in grants for a five-year project called the American Healing Initiative. But in an unusual and unexpected move, the foundation assembled some of the grantees here recently to help heal the healers.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a private, philanthropic organization, founded by breakfast cereal magnate, Will Keith Kellogg, crafted the America Healing Initiative to partner with community organizations working to address racial disparities in education, health, criminal justice, the economy and the media.

The foundation hosted a diverse group of community organizers, civil rights leaders health care professionals and educators to build stronger networks and to focus on using effective storytelling to increase the visibility of their work on the national stage.

“This year’s theme, ‘Reclaiming the Narrative’ comes on the heels of the re-election of our first African American president, movement towards comprehensive immigration reform and the Supreme Court’s decision to evaluate affirmative action policies at public colleges and universities,” said Gail Christopher vice president of program strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “These recent events have created a fierce urgency to address the impact of our collective historic and contemporary narratives surrounding discussions about race.”

The America Healing Initiative conference featured panel discussions on the criminal justice system, immigration, housing, the wealth gap and using digital media to promoter racial healing and effective messaging. Healing sessions that allowed conference attendants to share heart-felt stories about the impact of racism in their lives were paramount to the learning and networking that took place during the four-day long summit.

“The groups are diverse,” said Christopher. “You’ve got Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Europeans and we wrapped it around why they do the work. It opens people’s eyes. You really don’t understand what it’s like to live in another person’s skin, literally, unless you have that exposure.”

M. von Nkosi, 49, said that there were emotional moments, a lot of talk about childhood and some tears in the healing session he attended. Nkosi, is the president of Liquid Studios, a community development group, based in the Atlanta.

“It’s rough being a brother in this country,” said Nkosi, an African-American who grew up in the New York City area. “You can’t experience it no more than I can experience being a woman.”

Nkosi said that he experienced more overt racism growing up in the North than he did in the South.

He recalled experiencing racism as a teenager playing in a junior football league in 1978. Nkosi played wingback for a team composed of Whites and Blacks in Teaneck, N.J. The team had an away game in Fort Lee, N.J., less than 20 minutes away.

“We get to Fort Lee, they have an all-White team, except for one Black guy – he was light-skinned and he was sitting on the bench,” said Nkosi. “We started scoring touchdowns and their officials were calling the touchdowns back and they were basically cheating for that team.”

Nkosi said that one of his teammates got into a fight on the field after a Fort Lee player called him the N-word. Nkosi’s teammate was ejected from the game and the referees continued to show their true colors. Finally, Nkosi said, his coaches, who were White, had enough and ordered the team off the field.

“I remember those White parents standing up and cheering as we walked off the field,” said Nkosi. “I don’t think we got to halftime.”

Back in Teaneck, N.J. Nkosi’s coaches debriefed the squad, talked about what happened, and how it wasn’t a reflection of the team’s play or the coaching staff.

“You can’t let it get to you,” said Nkosi remembering his coach’s words.

Christopher said that participants were also urged to share experiences that affirmed their humanity. And Nkosi shared those memories as well.

“When I was freezing, walking around in the snow selling candy for a school in New Jersey, a White woman invited me in to warm up in her home and bought some candy from me,” recalled Nkosi. “When we lived in New York, I locked myself out of the apartment waiting for my mom to come home from school. The superintendent, a Puerto Rican, invited me up and fed me and let me wait there until my mom came home.”

Christopher said that those healing sessions have greatly increased the understanding of racism in the world.

“I think this is a shifting of consciousness and gives people that are dedicated to racial healing a place to connect to be more informed to catch our breath and to form strategic alliances and collaborations that will affect the changes we all want,” said Susan Taylor editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine and founder of the National Cares Mentoring Movement, which was designed to narrow the gap between millions of Black children who are at risk and the scarce ranks of Black adult mentors.

NCCM received $355,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2012 through the America Healing Initiative, one of 119 community groups in nine states and Washington, D.C. Christopher said when the racial and ethnic disparities disappear and the wide gaps in educational achievement or the economic status are closed, she will consider the America Healing Initiative successful.

For Taylor and others, getting to that point requires reclaiming the narrative of American history, a past that is often glossed over for the sake of getting along. Without addressing the sins of that past, she said, those wounds will never heal.

“We have to know that African people were enslaved, said Taylor. “We help to build this nation and Black men have always been demonized and Black women’s bodies have been misused. We have to understand it, we have to own it, we have to know it, so that we can heal it and move forward.”

Nkosi said that with each generation racial healing and progress towards an equitable society continues.

“I think we’re getting there. I think over the next 50-75 years, it’s going to be a very different world,” said Nkosi. “Not for my daughters so much, but their grandchildren, my great grandchildren. It will be a different world.”

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